You had to be listening closely to pick up an environmental message during Tony Evers' inaugural speech on Monday, but it was there. Evers drew applause when he talked about the need to address issues that matter to the state's younger residents.
"Like our young people who work multiple jobs just to stay here and afford their student loan payments. They’re also looking to us to make sure we take gun violence and global warming seriously," Evers said.
But does that mean Evers will work to mitigate the effects of climate change?
Evers said yes during a gubernatorial debate last fall. He said if elected, he'd bring scientists back to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Former Gov. Scott Walker streamlined the agency and promoted speedy customer service. Critics said the DNR became less science- and more business-driven.
Evers described a different DNR model. "I would make the Department of Natural Resources secretary independent appoint approved by the legislature, and also have an independent board," Evers said.
He added, renewable energy projects would both protect resources and create economic development, "As we move forward renewable energy is part and parcel of any fight against climate. I will prioritize that. We will make sure we prioritize economic development around creating good-paying jobs that lead to a better state and a better life for our kids. This is right on our doorstep," Evers said.
He also has pledged to keep a watchful eye on Walker’s landmark deal taking shape in Racine County – the huge LCD screen factory, being built by the Taiwanese company Foxconn.
Just a few days before he took office, Evers told WisconsinEye that the Foxconn project dictates careful scrutiny — not only because of possible environmental impacts but because of the plant’s size and that of the tax incentives package Walker brokered.
"I’m going to wait until I’m in office and have our DNR secretary in place and scientists involved in a different way at the DNR to make a decision about the air quality, whether that has to be revisited or not," Evers said.
Environmental issues also appear to be important to the state's new lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes.
During the inauguration, the Milwaukee native pledged to work toward creating opportunity for every community, "And that starts with access to great health care, great schools in our neighborhoods and clean and safe drinking water in our homes. A person’s zip code should never determine their destiny," Barnes said.
Last month, Barnes met with a dozen teen leaders in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley. The students came from different sides of town but are mobilizing around climate change action. Barnes said the teens' active concern is critical.
"This is the generation that seems to understand it more than anybody. So, I’m just here to encourage them to continue the hard work that they are doing, continue the dedication especially in the face of so much opposition," Barnes said.
As Evers and his team carve out its environmental goals, they'll face obstacles.
Some will come from the seemingly regulation-adverse Republican base in the state Legislature. Others will come from the environment itself.
For example, the City of Milwaukee remains mired in concerns about potential exposure to lead through pipes that connect tens of thousands of households to city water mains. Some advocates say the problem is too expensive for the city to fix, so they're looking to the state to take an active role.
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